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By John Stephens
Underage drinking is running rampant across the nation.
From high school parties to college campuses, youth under 21 are drinking alcohol. Whether it is easier access, the feeling it is a rite of passage, or peer pressure, the problem is taking its toll on our youth.
In 2012, over the New Year holiday (from 6 p.m. on Dec. 30 to 6 a.m. on Jan. 3), an especially a high risk period, 140 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes.
Please do not delay in having that conversation with your child. Teen alcohol use kills about 4,700 people each year.
Our son was killed in an underage drunk-driving crash on Mother’s Day 2009; Adam was only 18. I had the conversation with Adam and his friends about not drinking and driving, and I assumed that not getting into a car with a drunk driver was understood.
I should have been more direct.
To this day, I replay how that conversation would go.
What pains me so deeply is that this is not what fatherhood was meant to be like. Instead of waking to the anticipation of another Mother’s Day gift of candy on Mom’s pillow and a big hug and kiss, we can only clutch at our memories of Adam.
Moving from this devastation to action, to prevent another loss, I volunteer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as a community activist and staunch supporter. I speak at MADD events to help raise awareness about the risks of drug and alcohol use among youth.
I believe, through MADD’s activities and programs, parents and teens have the tools to begin the conversation about underage drinking.
In Georgia, MADD’s “Power of Parents” program has reached thousands of families. MADD works with schools to promote “Power of You(th),” a teen-focused program.
Through these initiatives, MADD is helping families understand that these conversations are instrumental in building healthy relationships and creating a partnership between parent and child, and between friends.
Through my grief, I wrote a book, “Return to the Water” (www.returntothewater.com). Proceeds from sales go to support MADD. Jan Withers, national president of MADD, said this about the book: “This is a deeply honest and touching story of a father’s deep love for his family. John’s primary dream was to create a family bond and be the father he felt was denied him. It is a reminder that even though we devote so much of ourselves into envisioning and planning our dreams, we cannot always protect ourselves and those we love from devastating tragedy.
“This poetic prose relays how a family can be shattered by the violence of drunk driving which killed his son, Adam. John gripped my heart as he took me on a journey of passionate family devotion.”
I urge families to use everyday opportunities, like stories in this very newspaper, to start talking about the dangers of underage drinking.
The life saved could be your child’s.
John Stephens, the owner/CEO of a medical devices company, lives in Milton.